The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last month to allow the creation of up to three state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, becoming the third state in the country to legalize so-called "compassion centers" after both the House and Senate voted to override the veto of Gov. Donald Carcieri '65.
The use of medical marijuana for gravely ill patients was legalized by the General Assembly in 2006. But without a legal means to obtain marijuana, patients have to grow it themselves or buy it illegally.
"It's an opportunity for people to live out their lives in a more peaceful way," said State Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Dist. 10, who sponsored the bill in the House. "The only people who seem to be prevented from getting marijuana are the people who need it for their diseases."
Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, also praised the bill. "Rhode Island now has the best law throughout the country for medical marijuana," Hogan said. Unlike in California, he said, "these are state-regulated, non-profit organizations. All you need in California is a license."
According to Hogan, there should be three dispensaries statewide by 2011.
Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Carcieri, said the governor continues to oppose the bill.
"First and foremost, it tends to weaken the laws governing and the perceptions of illicit drugs," Kempe said, adding that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of drug use among teenagers.
She added that California has seen an increase in crime in the areas surrounding compassion centers, as patients leaving the centers are vulnerable to muggers.
Dan Bernath, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said that evidence of increased crime in areas around dispensaries in California is merely "anecdotal." The bill, he said, is "a reflection of the understanding that these compassion centers have worked very well" in other states.
"I think it is an acknowledgement that the mood is changing," Bernath said. "Obama and his attorney general have shown that they're not interested in using federal law enforcement resources against people operating within the laws of the state."